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Koch-backed group urges passage of 'Right to Try' bill allowing experimental drugs for terminal patients

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The legislation would allow terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs. (iStock photo)

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative nonprofit associated with the Koch brothers, has launched a media campaign backing legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to try medicines that haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The policy, referred to as "Right to Try," has been passed in more than 38 states. An experimental medicine would need to pass the first phase of review, the one determining that it is safe for people but not whether it works, before patients could try it.

The latest campaign will involve digital ads as well as a lobbying effort, and is being launched alongside Americans for Prosperity, the primary political advocacy group for David and Charles Koch.

“It’s hard to think of a better way to start the new year than by delivering hope to millions of terminally ill patients and their families by passing Right to Try legislation," Freedom Partners executive vice president Nathan Nascimento said in a statement. "Congress is at the one yard line of approving this common-sense legislation that will make it easier for terminally ill patients to access increased medication and treatment options that could make a difference. The last step is to move the legislation out of committee and it will pass.”

Freedom Partners believes a federal law, and not just state-level laws, is needed so that people aren't afraid that they will face problems when they try to access experimental drugs, and so people who live in states where it isn't authorized will not need to travel. A drug that is under review can take more than 15 years to reach patients as it undergoes testing and government oversight.

Freedom Partners also sent a letter Monday to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, urging him to advance the bill out of committee. The legislation already passed the Senate last summer, and Vice President Mike Pence has been urging its passage in the House as well.

"The House Energy and Commerce Committee has the opportunity now to give hope to these families and patients who are facing the most dire circumstances, and we urge you to seize it," Freedom Partners wrote in its letters.

The FDA has a program that allows patients to access drugs that are still under review, known as its "Compassionate Use" program. But Freedom Partners says only about 1,000 people a year have been able to use it and that it is "costly, onerous and overly complicated."

Under right-to-try laws, a drug company would be under no obligation to allow patients to try the medicines that are still under review. Critics have been concerned about safety and about bypassing the authority of the FDA.